Ken Hartke

Follow author Add as friend Message author Subscribe to updates from author Subscribe via RSS
I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

Time in a Bottle

I hope that most people have another kind of memory image — one that brings back pleasant remembrances.

In 1973, singer/songwriter Jim Croce was killed in a plane crash at the height of his popularity. He had a huge fan base and several of his songs were released as singles just after his death and became classics of the mid 1970s era.  I was “keeping company” with a young woman who was to become my wife in 1976 and she was a serious Croce fan. She was a much more enthusiastic fan than I was but I enjoyed her enjoying Jim Croce’s music because that’s what we did in the 1970s…music was important.

One of those posthumously released songs was “Time in a Bottle”. The song was a classic love song of the era. It was probably included in countless weddings. 

 

If I could save time in a bottle

The first thing that I’d like to do

Is to save every day

Till Eternity passes away

Just to spend them with you

 

In the summer of 1975 I managed to talk this city girl into going on a backpacking trip to the Wyoming wilderness. This was very uncharacteristic of her and friends and relatives were astounded that she would agree to do something like that.  Going off to the mountains on a field trip with a guide and an organized group would be challenging enough but going off with one other person — on foot — was crazy talk.

We had a couple weekend trips to get in shape for the walk and check out our equipment. I had a stove that wanted to blow up in my face each time I turned it on.  We decided to take her car, which had a standard transmission, so I had to learn how to use a clutch. We had to waterproof everything and rub silicone into our hiking boots that weighed a ton. We tested out the freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini and granola bars. We packed and repacked but finally ended up carrying about 110 pounds of stuff in our two backpacks including the tent, sleeping bags, foam mattresses, food, water and that stove.

 

If I could make days last forever

If words could make wishes come true

I’d save every day like a treasure and then,

Again, I would spend them with you

 

We scheduled the trip for late July and finally hit the road, camping along the way. We agreed that we would stay in a real hotel with a real bed after we came out of the mountains but would camp as much as possible.  Half the fun of the trip was just getting there. At one point she decided that she wanted to see a buffalo so we were off on a wild buffalo chase in an overloaded Ford Pinto. We found a small herd but almost left the oil pan at the bottom of a ravine in the process.

We said goodbye to civilization, hoisted our packs and staggered around the parking lot for a while until we eventually disappeared into the Big Horn Mountains and Cloud Peak Wilderness. (We heard later that Jimmy Hoffa disappeared that day, as well…not backpacking)

It turns out that we had a great time. The mosquitos were bigger and the trout were smaller than we expected. We camped on a breezy ridge overlooking a lake and the wind kept the mosquitos away. We didn’t get eaten by bears or mountain lions and had only one serious encounter with a Mule deer. We saw only three people the whole time we were on the trail.

 

 If I had a box just for wishes

And dreams that had never come true

The box would be empty

Except for the memory

Of how they were answered by you

 

We came out of the mountains and went on with the trip. We stayed in that hotel. We had a close encounter with a bear at a later campsite. I convinced her to go camping again. We eventually got married and had a wonderful life together for 31 years.

The picture that most often brings this trip to mind is scratched and faded but the memory is bright and clear.

 

But there never seems to be enough time

To do the things you want to do

Once you find them

I’ve looked around enough to know

That you’re the one I want to go

Through time with

 

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
A very evocative, touching piece, Ken. Very beautiful.
Monday, 28 July 2014 07:47
Virginia M Macasaet
I was a Jim Croce fan! Time in a bottle is an old favorite! Beautiful piece...
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 13:34
Ken Hartke
Katherine and Virginia -- Thanks for the comments and for stopping by. Yes, this is one of my favorite Croce songs, too.
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 15:22
1680 Hits
4 Comments

In Praise of Old Hotels

I finally finished the "In Praise of Old Hotels" series over at Wordpress...except it doesn't feel finished. It has nine parts. Nine seems unsettled...like there should at least be ten or twelve. Maybe I need to hit the road again.

As I was going through my notes and writing the different descriptions I was a little surprised at the different writers who visited and spent time in some of the hotels. Owen Wister wrote a portion of The Virginian while living in the upstairs balcony room of the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo Wyoming. He had a good view of the activity out in the dusty street...cowboys and lawmen coming and going. Ernest Hemingway spent time at the same place as did Teddy Roosevelt. The Beekman Arms in Rhinebeck, NY is another spot frequented by authors and, back in the day, the founding fathers. The Paisano Hotel in Marfa, TX was the 'bunk house' for the actors during the filming of Edna Ferber's 'Giant', James Dean's last movie. Elizabeth Taylor, Dean, Dennis Hopper and Rock Hudson spent time there.  I suspect that maybe the screen writers paid a visit. I wonder if Edna Ferber did too.

If you were going to 'hole up' someplace to further your writing, where would you go? I think my choice would be either the Essex Inn (off season) or the Iron Horse...nothing to distract except the trains. I like trains.

Any-who...maybe the muses take vacations to some of these spots.  Here is the link: http://feralchats.wordpress.com/

 

922 Hits
0 Comments

Mr. Shaw's Gift to the World

On May 3, 1819, Henry Shaw, a young upper class Englishman, landed in the small town of St. Louis, Missouri, with a large shipment of hardware products. He was only eighteen years old at the time but he soon started a hardware business and became one of the wealthiest men in the city. He was the owner of a huge estate and became a famous botanist and collector after he retired at age 40. His estate became a botanical garden patterned after Kew Gardens in London.

After his death in 1889, his estate, known as "Shaw's Garden", was set aside as a public garden, along with Tower Grove Park, for the enjoyment of the people of St. Louis...the white people, anyway.  Shaw was a man of his age and a shrewd businessman.  He never married but that is another story. He also was a slave-owner but that was not unusual in pre-Civil War St. Louis...and that, also, is another story. His racial prejudice was not unusual in his day (and for many years afterward) but change came, slowly but decidedly.

Shaw's Garden (as it is still known by most locals) became the Missouri Botanical Garden and is one of the leading botanical gardens and research institutions in the world. Admission is $8.00 but local residents have free admission two days a week.

 

The Italianate-style Tower Grove House was Shaw's country home and the center of his large estate. Today it is a house museum surrounded by herbal and Victorian-style gardens. Shaw is buried in a granite mausoleum in a grove of trees nearby.

Shaw spent his retirement years pursuing his love of botany. Being extremely wealthy, he was able to collect living plants from all over the world. He also collected botanical specimens, books and plant material and had to build a museum and library to house his collections. The library was built in 1858. That building still stands but a new, modern library and research center is located nearby.

 

Shaw had a special greenhouse - his orangry - built in 1882. This is now the Linnean House, probably the oldest continually operated greenhouse west of the Mississippi River. Today it houses various types of cactus and dry climate plants from around the world.

 

Sculptures in the Garden

There are dozens of sculptures scattered through the garden. This is a small one - about 15 inches square.

 

Memorial to victims of

the 9-11 attacks given

by Zimbabwe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Mausoleum

 

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew), the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) and the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) are now collaborating to create a world catalogue of plants (online) by the year 2020. New plant species are frequently being discovered but over 100,000 species are endangered with extinction.

My last visit was a hot July day several years ago. It was a typical humid summer day in St. Louis. The garden is very shady due to the 100+ year old trees and, although it was 95 degrees, it was fairly tolerable. Being a Friday with a heat advisory posted there were not many people and we had much of the garden to ourselves.

The major blooming 'show' was the daylilies in full regalia. They have hundreds of varieties...no two look alike.  These are some random pictures of the daylilies.

 

Float like a butterfly - sting like a bee.

 If you find yourself in St. Louis and you're looking for something to do  -- be sure to check out the garden.

(Revised and reposted from 'I Spy With My Little Eye' photo blog on BlogSpot and FeralChats/Wordpress. All photographs are by the author)

 

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
It sounds like a very beautiful place. And what lovely flowers.
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 15:00
Ken Hartke
It is an amazingly peaceful enclave in the city. It would take a couple days to see it all.
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 15:40
Rosy Cole
Sensational! ... Read More
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 22:53
1640 Hits
6 Comments

The Fecundity of the Desert

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_20140717_102215.jpgI think that the most common perception of the desert is that it is a dead and inhospitable place.  I’m sure there are places like that. Maybe the Atacama Desert in northern Chile would be nearly lifeless. It is one of the driest places on earth and has been dry for three million years. I’ve never been there so I can’t report from personal observation but I’ve read that in wet years it might get a half inch of rain. That’s dry — but there are plants and animals that have adapted and thrive there. The Atacama is located along the Pacific Ocean and sea fog brings some moisture and humidity to coastal areas. There are scorpions and a few lizards. Where there are plants, there are grasshoppers who are followed by birds. Flamingos and penguins live near the ocean.  There is a species of mouse that lives in dry areas. If conditions are foggy along the coast there will be a few vicunas and guanacos, camel relatives,  who survive by eating cactus flowers.

I moved to the desert about a year ago from the humid and almost jungle-like Midwest. I lived within sight of the Missouri River. The forests in the Missouri Ozarks are almost impenetrable in summer. That is man’s doing. The Ozarks used to be a savanna. When the pines and large hardwoods were clear cut they were replaced by a mix of hardwoods — oaks, hickories, choke cherry, and hackberry — that compete in the (now) thin soil and produce a scrawny, bramble and vine-choked, tick infested forest. Winter is when you can best get to know the Ozark forests. But I digress. My point is that there is a wild abundance of living things almost everywhere except the extremes of the polar regions.

centipedeMy experience after moving to the New Mexico desert opened my eyes to the fecundity of it all.  I knew little about the desert but I learned fast. My house was vacant for about two months before I moved in and I had to reclaim it from the local fauna. I had a roadrunner in the garage and various creatures in the house. We have a nasty biting centipede that gets several inches long that you don’t want to mess with. There was one in my bed the first night but it was dead…placed there by my Guardian Angel as a warning. “Be on your toes” was the message.  My closest neighbor has had scorpions and a rattlesnake in the house.  I’ve been lucky so far. I have an indoor cat that patrols the house so he might be discouraging squatters.

I have a love/hate relationship with ants. They love me and whatever I have and I hate them with a passion. They can live outside if they stay passive and invisible but they can’t come in the house. I’ve declared war on one ant colony that must be ten years old based on the size of the mound they built…maybe older. I assume they have galleries and meeting halls and nurseries going down at least four or five feet. These are not little innocent ants. These are predators based on what I see them carrying back to the nest. I go on an ant patrol every couple weeks and wipe out the ones that are workers or defending the nest but the Queen is way down inside and laughing at my feeble efforts.

When it rains we have a burst of life. Frogs and toads appear from nowhere for about three days and then they disappear. The same is true with gnats and mosquitoes. House flies will linger a few days longer.   We had a few days of rain in the spring and that brought an invasion of grasshoppers. There were so many grasshoppers that they tracked them on weather radar. There were clouds of grasshoppers.  These were little guys…not the three inchers that we have in the Midwest. A couple days after the grasshoppers arrived the lizards showed up. Dozens of lizards patrolled the yard gobbling up the grasshoppers. Next to arrive were the roadrunners who went chasing after the lizards. Roadrunners eat snakes so it is a good thing to have roadrunners around.

I had a snake in my garage. It was a harmless (to me) coachwhip snake. These are extremely fast snakes. They will outrun a man if chased. There are old timer stories of coachwhip snakes biting their own tale and forming a hoop and rolling along the ground like a bicycle tire. Don’t believe it. They don’t need to — they are fast enough. This guy was convinced that he was going to move into my garage. I occasionally have a mouse or two trying to live there so he was just doing what snakes do. But I had to dispatch him because he was too persistent and would not leave and it was an easy move from the garage to the house.

I have coyotes that come up to the back door. I can hear them singing at night. This year we have a super abundance of desert cottontail rabbits  and jackrabbits. I expected the coyotes to keep them in check but we must not have enough coyotes. I guess those we have are well fed and happy. Next year we will have a lot more coyotes — that’s how the cycle works.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I bought the house I noticed that there was a water feature — a koi pond with a little stream and waterfall.  “How cute is that?” I thought.  Well, a 1,500 gallon pond requires a lot of work. It turned out that the koi fish were extortionists and would eat everything in the pond if I didn’t feed them twice a day with two kinds of food. Koi fish can live 80 years. They have been described as the pigs of the fish world but some people really like them and will spend huge sums to acquire a single fancy koi.  That made getting rid of them easy.

The pond also had sixteen goldfish of various colors and shapes. Goldfish are polite and respectful compared to koi and they don’t eat as much. This spring I noticed that the goldfish were playing tag. Pretty soon the game intensified and I realized it was spawning behavior. They spawned seven times that I noticed and the process was quite violent. Some of the fish were injured but all survived. Now I have several hundred baby goldfish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course the pond isn’t a desert feature but I mention it because it is the only reliable water source for wildlife in my area. It is like a watering hole in the Serengeti. All of the animals come to the pond.  When I walk out the front door there will always be something running away or flying away. The most notable visitors — because of their punctuality and numbers — are the doves. There are dozens of doves that come to the pond every night just after sunset. The rabbits are almost always there, one or two at a time. There are ground squirrels that hang out with the rabbits.

A Rock Squirrel built a den in the rocks near the waterfall and decorates it with twigs and small branches. If I remove the twigs they will be back the next morning. He is aggravated that I take his twigs so he brings pieces of cactus, from some distance away, and places cactus among the twigs to deter me from messing with them. That’s a very ingenious effort on his part.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been adopted by two boy quails. They follow me around whenever I go outside and call the whole time. One, I’ve named Buddy, is a Gambel’s Quail…the kind with the little droopy feather on its head. The other, named Sparky, is a Scaled Quail…with a little white topnotch.  Both were unsuccessful in finding mates. Buddy had a girlfriend for about four hours one afternoon but she got a better offer. Sparky is in more serious trouble. He’s the only Scaled Quail I’ve seen in the area. Prospects are pretty slim for Sparky. Since they can’t find a mate they decided to adopt me. Lately Buddy has been scarce. I had to go on a trip for a week and he may have adopted someone else. At least that’s what I’m hoping. Sparky is still around.  I think I have a split personality. Some days I feel like Marlin Perkins and some days I feel like Beatrix Potter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve talked about the animals but the plants are almost as busy. Everything blooms in it’s own way. We had a huge germination and growth of a blue flowering plant that turned out to be Wild Heliotrope  – if you like it — or Scorpion Weed — if you don’t like it. I liked it and let it grow. It carpeted the whole yard. My neighbor spent hours chopping it out.  It didn’t last too long. The grasshoppers found it when they arrived and the blazing sun finished off the rest.  The bees are kept very busy as are the hummingbirds. There is almost always something in bloom.

The sun is really the deciding factor in what lives or dies. It is unrelenting and will scorch anything that is unprotected. Even though it isn’t a hot day the sun will heat up anything that is exposed and the dryness will pull out any moisture. It is often cool in the shade on those days.

I visited the White Sands desert a few months ago and there is a notable amount of plant life and some small animal life. Predator animals, like coyotes and hawks, live on the edge of the desert. They patrol the dunes but uually don’t live there.  So the desert is far from being a dead or inhospitable place. Things are always growing and reproducing. This is high desert, around 5,800 feet in elevation. The summer temperature only rarely exceeds 100 degrees. A lower and hotter place would have different plants and animals but there would be a similar array of wildlife.

Our monsoon season has started and has been going on for a week or so. We get a little bit of rain almost every day. Watching the storms is a form of entertainment for me. The lightning is spectacular and you can track storms for 100 miles. This year it arrived a little early and promises to be a good one….meaning lots of rain. My rain barrels are almost full. Apparently El Nino has a role in how our monsoons go so our weather is determined way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  More wet weather will bring more life to the desert.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
What a fine description - it sounds idllyic.
Friday, 18 July 2014 00:03
Ken Hartke
Some days it's almost Disney-esque. Thanks for stopping by.
Friday, 18 July 2014 00:10
Rosy Cole
Ken, this is a magical post! Thanks for sharing it. I love the very real engagement with wildlife, both flora and fauna. It's so r... Read More
Friday, 18 July 2014 11:37
5375 Hits
8 Comments

Writing For Life

We are a small, friendly community who value writing as a tool for developing a brighter understanding of the world and humanity. We share our passions and experiences with one another and with a public readership. ‘Guest’ comments are welcome. No login is required. In Social Media we are happy to include interesting articles by other writers on any of the themes below. Enjoy!


Latest Blogs

  Padre Felipe was laid to rest in the Camposanto. He was a good man – from just over the mountain. Not far – He knew this place. He was one of us...
  I was on an unintended winter walkthrough a quiet streamside forest. We call it a Bosque in these parts;that’s the old Spanish name. I had nowhe...
                                    To wish all American friends and colleagues a Happy Thanksgiving Day   A Pilgrim's Prayer ...
“All-changing time now darkens what was bright, Now ushers out of darkness into light”                                                                ...

Latest Comments

Ken Hartke A Winter's Walk
10 December 2019
Thanks. It's always an amazing transition from the grand show of October to the quiet of early Decem...
Stephen Evans A Winter's Walk
09 December 2019
Enjoyed the clarity of the writing, Ken.
Rosy Cole A Pilgrim's Prayer
01 December 2019
When working with children years ago, I created many acrostics. Most had the keyword somewhere down ...
Rosy Cole The Three Pietas
01 December 2019
Your penultimate paragraph sums it up well, that Life consists in faith, belief, in sheer creative i...
Stephen Evans A Pilgrim's Prayer
30 November 2019
I learned a new work today - acrostic - this is a good one!https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrostic